Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Manifestations of/in Paris

Funny, I have so much to detail about our trip, so many pictures I want to show you, meals I want to describe, anecdotes I want to relate, that I'm rather paralysed deciding where to start. Compounding the problem is that I have lists and lists, also rather paralysing, of catch-up work that needs to be done. Besides the personal front -- make an appointment for pedicure, see the physiotherapist, schedule another massage, pick up the yarn order -- there's committee work that had to wait 'til I got back and my own scholarly research and prep work for the fall courses. As well, I have to arrange with my little sis the annual visit that her kids have with me -- the older two, now 16 and 14, are probably to busy to pull this off again, but the twin 8-year olds are looking forward to staying at the beach with their Auntie, and I'm happy to oblige, but that'll be a week filled up in the calendar. Then I want to get out to Toronto this summer to see my daughter who's working there and to check out the city which I've only ever spent a day in.

So since I'm paralysed, I thought perhaps I'd show you some Parisiens who are demanding Action. The day we arrived in Paris, May 22nd, there was a Grève of apparently national proportions that shut down trains across the country as well as much of the Metro in Paris. We didn't find out about this until we overheard people speaking about it as we rode the RER into the city, but soon found ourselves unceremoniously dumped at the Gare du Nord, way, way across the city from our place in the 13th. Although it was 10:30 a.m. by that time in Paris, for our bodies it was the wee hours, a time when they didn't happily support lugging bags. After considerable wandering through the station, consulting notices, trudging up and down staircases, and inspecting the various tracks, we found a train that got us down to Châtelet, if I remember correctly, so within a relatively easy stroll of two, maybe three kilometres. Not so bad, especially if we stopped for lunch and a glass of Leffe on the way. So glad we'd done this before and knew some of the ropes and SOOOO glad we only had our carry-on-sized cases.
In the days following, we saw numerous "Manifs" -- not strikes (grèves) but manifestations. Above, and again here below (and below that as well) is a manif protesting against cuts to the education system. We were walking back from the Bastille and first heard, then saw, this blocks-long parade heading along the Rue de Rivoli. We walked opposite it down to the Ile St. Louis which it was snaking across with its rear still back on the Rive Gauche.

Here you see not only the manif, but in the foreground, a quick glimpse of a Velib station -- these three bikes will be among perhaps 30 or so, all available to anyone who has either a credit card for the deposit OR a transit card or, I think, a subscription card for the service. Similar stations are regularly encountered, so that you can generally drop your bike off close to your destination. The cost is crazily reasonable, and we saw all manner of people using them -- dressed in suits, skirts, heels, boots, hoodies, shorts, not bathing suits but that will probably happen too! Such a brilliant idea -- I'll be following the stats over the next few years to see how this affects Paris traffic and public transit. We debated using them but with the rain we had when we were there, we decided not to -- next year for sure!

We encountered our next manif a few days later, this time somewhere near the Hotel de Ville, if I've got it right. This one urged prison reform.Then over on the Left Bank a few days later, somewhere around St. Germain, sitting at a cafe sipping our expensive Oranginas, we heard what we thought must be yet another manifestation. Well, it was certainly urging folks to action, but this parade seemed to be celebrating food of the Alsace region and advertising the opening of a new club.
Dozens of young people dressed in advertising T-shirts lip-synched, danced, handed out candies, and just enjoyed being able to hold up Paris traffic at 4:00 in the afternoon. I can't imagine this happening on a weekday in Vancouver! Again, it was several city blocks long

Of course, the city is very respectful and protective of its right to protest, especially this year, especially last month. Just off the Blvd. St. Michel there's a wonderful exhibit of photographs documenting the events of Mai 68, when students reminded the city that "Sous les pavés, la plage" or "Under the paving stones, the beach," and when those very paving stones became missiles lobbed at police. Last year, we saw numerous manifs that were much more energetic and much more reminiscent of the spirit of '68 than any of this year's, and once we watched at least 100 riot troops running into their formations against the oncoming crowd, Star-Warred up in their impressive body armour. Having read several histories of Paris and knowing how much blood has run in these streets, I was glad to be able to stroll peacefully through its beauties, but I'll never complacently take that for granted.

Now, having somewhat overcome my paralysis, I'm planning out my next few posts. I'll be telling you about a few wonderful meals, taking you for a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens, and sharing some lessons in comprehension. Hope you'll be back.
LATER: I've just noticed some Paris blogs posting about another manif today. Check out what Polly-Vous Français has to say here and read Penny at Paris-scope on the noisy disruption of the latest protest.


  1. Today was a day of manifs in France again - another spring of discontent.

  2. Lesley: Great to have a new commenter -- I see that today's manifs involve the ambulances.

  3. So, when the manif of ambulances is on does that mean there are no ambulances available? That sounds incredibly dangerous. Best to keep the ambulance drivers happy and on the job.

    Look forward to more details of your journey. Merci!

  4. We tried to use the bikes last year in Paris, but in typical French fashion the three different machines we tried were not working. They're a great idea though. I had heard that Vancouver was going to try the same system.


  5. LBR: Polly's post suggests that the ambulance manif is just that, a manifestation rather than an actual strike, so heart attack victims should still make it to the hospital on time -- if only all those Parisien drivers move out of the way!
    Leona: Vélib was only introduced after we were in Paris last year, so it would have been very new when you were there -- they seem to have got the glitches out now, judging by the number of people we see riding them, and by the ease with which folks dropped them off or got one out of its locked stand. I'd love to see a similar system in Vancouver, at least in the downtown core or something -- we'll need to deal with our inefficient sprawl first, I think.

  6. Materfamilias: I think Paris has that effect on everyone who does not live there - that of paralysing :-)

    I got here to read your Haiku meme (from Une Femme) and started reading your Paris posts. Will come check more later.



I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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